A VoIP phone or IP phone uses voice over IP technologies for placing and transmitting telephone calls over an IP network, such as the Internet, instead of the traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Digital IP-based telephone service uses control protocols such as the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), Skinny Client Control Protocol (SCCP) or various other proprietary protocols.
VoIP phones can be simple software-based softphones or purpose-built hardware devices that appear much like an ordinary telephone or a cordless phone. Traditional PSTN phones are used as VoIP phones with analog telephone adapters (ATA).
A VoIP phone or application may have many features an analog phone doesn’t support, such as e-mail-like IDs for contacts that may be easier to remember than names or phone numbers, or easy sharing of contact lists among multiple accounts. Generally the features of VoIP phones follow those of Skype and other PC-based phone services, which have richer feature sets but (because they rely on mainstream operating systems’ IP support) latency-related audio problems.
A competing view is that as mainstream operating systems become better at voice applications with appropriate Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees and 5G handoff (IEEE 802.21 etc.) becomes available from outdoor wireless carriers, netbooks and smartphones will simply become the dominant interfaces. iPhone, Android and the QNX OS used in 2012-and-later BlackBerry phones are generally capable of VoIP performance even on small battery-charged devices. They also typically support the USB but not Ethernet or Power over Ethernet interfaces, at least as of late 2011. According to this view, the smartphone becomes the dominant VoIP phone because it works both indoors and outdoors and shifts base stations/protocols easily to trade off access costs and call clarity and other factors personal to the user, and the PoE/USB VoIP phone is thus the transitional device.